Today the Haka is best known for its performances by the national rugby team of New Zealand, the All Blacks, but it has a long history for the Maori people of New Zealand.
There are many types of Haka performed today but originally it was performed by Maori warriors prior to a battle. Its intention was to call on the god of war, to frighten and intimidate the opposition, and establish prowess. It must be performed in total unison and any departure from that is considered to be an ill-omen. A battle between warring tribes in New Zealand was to the death, survivors were able to take revenge and so making sure there were none was the best option. In modern times the Haka is still performed but less often for battle. Today it is most often seen performed prior to the international rugby games of the All Black, to welcome guests to the traditional lands of the Maori, to acknowledge great achievements, and at funerals.
The funeral Haka is performed without weapons and is a little freer in movement than the traditional war Haka. Those taking part are expected to express their feelings at the loss of the loved one, family, friend or college, and to use their bodies to express that emotion.
It is an awesome experience to be in a place watching a Haka, and while film can capture some of its elements it doesn’t always capture the thrill of seeing it performed in reality. The guttural cries and the rhythmic chant, the stamping of the feet, the gestures, the body slapping, the poking out of the tongue, and the display of the whites of the eyes, these are best witnessed in person rather than on film. If you ever get the chance to see a Haka performed I can almost guarantee the hairs on your arms will stand on end, and if you have even the vaguest link to New Zealand you will get a lump in your throat.
On August 28, 2012, the New Zealand Herald posted a story of video footage which went viral – Soldiers’ Farewell Haka.
The 2nd and 1st Battalion Royal New Zealand Infantry Regiment performed the moving tribute for Corporal Luke Tamatea, 31, Lance Corporal Jacinda Baker, 26, and Private Richard Harris, 21, at their funeral service at the Burnham Military Camp in Christchurch on Saturday. The trio were killed instantly when a roadside bomb destroyed their Humvee in Afghanistan’s northeast Bamiyan Province on August 18.
A quote from Major John Gordon accompanied the story;
Army spokesman Major John Gordon told the Herald last week the haka represented their “outpouring of emotion”.
“Our military is a small organisation and people tend to all know each other,” he said.
“Many soldiers don’t tend to show their emotions. But today, you saw their collective grief. Their personal grieving will come later.”
(As quoted by Paul Harper in the article)
Its an incredible moving video and so worth sharing with the world.
There are some great videos of the Haka if you want to see other Haka performances, and a good spot to start is the 100% Pure New Zealand web site. They offer video footage and commentary in a number of languages.